The start of the 2019-2020 season seemed like a period of rebuilding for the Wizards, with the seventh youngest roster in the league, a few injuries including an Achilles tear from star point guard John Wall, and the departure of players like Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.
But, just 15 games into the season and actually performing better than expected, the Wizards have pleasantly surprised many. The team has shown they are a force to be reckoned with on offense.
Shooting guard Bradley Beal is at the front of this force, with power forward Dāvis Bertāns and center Thomas Bryant right there with him. Bertāns is shooting above 40 percent from the 3-point line, and Bryant holds a 55.8 FG percentage.
Currently, Beal puts up almost 30 points and averages 7.1 assists per game. But despite Beal’s unbelievable scoring, his focus is not on averaging a certain amount of points.
“I think [scoring] is more or less expected of myself,” Beal says. “I just do whatever I can to help the team win. Whatever I can do, that’s what I try to accomplish.”
The 6-13 Wizards have some new faces on their roster, including rookie Rui Hachimura. Younger players like Troy Brown Jr., who’s in his second season, and new player Mo Wagner continue to make a name for themselves. Also leading alongside Beal are players who have seen plenty of time in the league like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith and C.J. Miles.
Brown Jr. feels having such a young team gives them an edge and the ability to learn from more experienced players.
“It allows us to grow, develop, and bond on and off the court together, but it also allows us to learn from and take advantage of the advice the vets on our team give,” he explains. “Not many guys have the opportunity to learn from a Bradley Beal, C.J. Miles or John Wall at such a young age in their career.”
The saying “defense wins championships” might not apply to this Wizards’ team, but don’t be too hasty in writing them off just yet. Although, head coach Scott Brooks said to NBC recently that having a top-rated offense and low-rated defense does not cut it.
One player who has been playing consistently well on both sides of the ball is Wagner at center.
He has brought intensity to the offense as a playmaker, scorer and rebounder, and is very dominant on defense. His outstanding play is not limited to inside the paint – he is a threat outside the arch also, shooting just below 50 percent from the 3-point line.
If Wagner can keep his fouling to a minimum, he is destined to earn more playing time from Brooks. Wagner says this is the first year he has really been given a big opportunity, and he works every day to take advantage of it.
“I just try to bring an energy and help wherever the team needs me. Run the floor and get rebounds, be solid defensively, take and knock down open shots – that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Thomas, on the other hand, has been in the league for almost 10 years. He knows the type of play that is required to be successful in the NBA, but historically underperforms on defense.
A highly talked about topic among fans is who should start in the point guard position during Wall’s absence: Thomas or Smith. But Thomas says he is primarily focused on becoming known as a leader on the team and doing whatever it takes to help the Wizards obtain wins.
“I’m just looking forward to a really great season and helping in any way possible,” he says. “A leadership role is something that I’ve always done. It just comes naturally: to lead by example, lead vocally.”
What do the Wizards need to do to have the best possible season? Play harder and with a smarter defense. That has become evident to most anyone who has watched them play so far this season. They have shown they can light their opponents up on offense, move the ball well, and favor the pick-and-roll to make plays, create space and find open shots.
If they stray away from having one of the worst-ranked defenses in the league, they would be scary good. Currently, the Wizards average 6.8 steals, 4.1 blocks and 32.2 defensive rebounds per game. With the exception of defensive rebounds, the Los Angeles Lakers – the top-rated defensive team in the league – are almost doubling the Wizards’ numbers on defense.
While unlikely, only time will tell if the Wizards can turn things around enough on defense to earn a playoff spot. Beal says for him, this season is about fostering winning habits on and off the court.
“I’ve told myself that this year is about having patience. We have a lot of new faces, a new system and young players that are developing. [We’re] just putting in the work, getting better every day and learning from the mistakes we make.”
The Wizards play at Capital One Arena four more times this month. For tickets and more info on the team, visit www.nba.com/wizards.
Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.nba.com/wizards